CAIRO (Reuters) - Yemeni government forces intend to launch the battle for Sanaa within two months and steps are already under way to break the grip of Houthi fighters who controlled the capital for nearly a year, said the country’s exiled foreign minister.
Even if government troops do realize their goal, any major gains could be fragile, as recent battlefield successes in the southern port city of Aden illustrate.
“(The battle for Sanaa will begin) within eight weeks, God willing. It has really already begun in the resistance within Sanaa, which is mobilizing,” Yemeni Foreign Minister Reyad Yassin Abdulla told Reuters in an interview during a visit to Cairo.
“Many things are happening which will lead to the retaking of Sanaa.”
The conflict in Yemen between supporters of the exiled Western-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the northern, Iran-allied, Houthi movement has exacerbated tensions in a region already in turmoil in Syria, Iraq and Libya.
Seeking to fend off what they say is Iran’s influence in Yemen, a Saudi-led coalition has been trying to defeat the Houthis with a campaign of air strikes since March.
At least 4,300 people have died so far and Yemen has been plunged into a humanitarian crisis as the state has collapsed.
The Houthis say their rise to power is a revolution against corrupt officials serving the interests of Saudi Arabia and the West.
They have been on control of Sanaa since September 2014, and the battle to retake the city is unlikely to be easy.
Having seized Aden in April 2015, the Houthis lost control of that city in July after months of fighting.
Aden has witnessed a security vacuum since the Houthis were pushed out, with residents saying police stations are deserted and policemen and government army units largely absent.
Yemeni security officials told Reuters that about 50 Saudi forces had arrived in Aden to train and rebuild local forces.
The pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat quoted a senior Yemeni military source as saying that “Saudi special forces” had arrived in Aden to help maintain peace in the city and the surrounding areas where the Houthis had been pushed back.
UAE forces are also on the ground in Aden.
Abdulla declined to comment on the number of UAE and Saudi troops present in Yemen, but said that the majority of those engaged in active combat are Yemeni and come from the national army and the popular resistance.
“There are some individuals and forces from the Emirates, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council, but most of their tasks are technical,” he said, adding that he did not believe Emirati and Saudi troops were engaged in active fighting.
“They are (giving Yemeni forces) all sorts of training, in combat, field command, usage of military apparatus, vehicle usage, communications, all sorts. We are aiming to build a real national army. That is the basis for this training,” he said.
“They are helping technically and are cooperating with us with much of the technical consulting and equipment, but all the direct combat is being undertaken by Yemeni troops.”
Editing by Michael Georgy and Robin Pomeroy